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The board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is set to consider a new inquiry into the activities of its former chairman, Kenneth Tomlinson. NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK reporting:
In some ways it all started with Kenneth Tomlinson's outrage at watching the weekly PBS show "NOW with Bill Moyers." The show sharply questioned Bush administration policies and Tomlinson, who's long been active in Republican circles, starting raising his voice.
Mr. KENNETH TOMLINSON (Former Chair, Corporation for Public Broadcasting): I simply urged, some would say too forcefully, that if you air a liberal program, you should air a conservative program by its side and, by the way, also you can put the middle in there, too.
FOLKENFLIK: The CPB distributes federal funds for NPR and PBS member stations and subsidizes some of their shows, so it can carry real weight. PBS soon launched programs with conservatives such Tucker Carlson and The Wall Street Journal's editorial writers. Jeffrey Chester is involved in public broadcasting issues as the executive director of the advocacy group the Center for Digital Democracy.
Mr. JEFFREY CHESTER (Center for Digital Democracy): Under the former chair Ken Tomlinson, the CPB board has been engaged in an outright pressure campaign to force PBS in particular to engage in programming practices that would please more of a conservative audience.
FOLKENFLIK: NPR spoke to several current and former CPB figures who have been interviewed by the agency's investigators. They say Inspector General Kenneth Konz appears particularly interested in the role Tomlinson played in getting those new shows on the air. Konz is also focused on a flurry of hires of CPB officials with strong White House and Republican ties, including new CEO Patricia Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee. And Konz has probed the move by Tomlinson to hire an outside consultant to monitor the political leanings of several shows on PBS and National Public Radio. Tomlinson did not respond to requests today seeking comment, but he made his swan song address as CPB chairman late last month to a media industry group.
(Soundbite of speech)
Mr. TOMLINSON: And in the end, if I threatened the cozy atmosphere of public broadcasting over the failure to balance the liberal advocacy journalism of Bill Moyers, my reaction is `So be it.'
FOLKENFLIK: Congressional Democrats say the CPB is supposed to shield public broadcasting from political influence and that Tomlinson has failed to do so. NPR obtained e-mails showing that Tomlinson urged CPB to hire at least one person recommended by the White House, and he directed CPB last year to follow the Bush administration's stance on a sensitive bill. Here's how Tomlinson responded last month when NPR asked him about those e-mails.
(Soundbite of interview)
Mr. TOMLINSON: There was certainly no effort from this White House to influence public broadcasting.
FOLKENFLIK: The CPB board's meetings this week may run through Thursday and are to be held in private, and the report won't be released to the public for two weeks. Tomlinson stepped down as chairman last month, but he remains on the board. Several people with current and former ties to CPB say Tomlinson's presence at the meetings is itself a contentious issue. David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.
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